South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries

Conference blog: Eight thoughts on developing a work experience programme to raise aspirations amongst young people.

This blog post from Laura Service is the latest in a series of posts that share learning from the recent South West Fed Conference. This post is inspired by the presentation given by Jackie Winchester (Bristol Culture) and Deshni Pyndiah (Real Ideas Organisation).

In their session, Jackie and Deshni described how eight organisations across Bristol’s creative and cultural sector have banded together to develop new work experience programmes. Supported by the Real Ideas Organisation ACE’s SW bridge organisation, they now offer 50 one-week placements per year targeted at cohorts of young people in years 10 & 11 from areas of high deprivation that don’t engage with museums. Jackie and Deshni shared examples of resources/processes and the feedback from the young people to show the practical side of how the programme works. They suggested how the model developed in Bristol could be replicated across smaller organisations in the South West. Below are eight key points I took away from their session.


1. Why develop work experience in your setting? You have the opportunity to raise awareness of the range of roles within your setting to Y10 & 11s. You need to think about how someone undertaking work experience can be inspired: Never mind the photocopier…what does the finance department do? What kind of a person does it take to be a Director? What skills do you need to be a security person or to run a cafe in your setting? With a good work experience programme, you raise the aspiration of your local young people to work in your setting and our sector.


2. How can you raise their aspirations? You are able to tap into the passion and knowledge of the team around you. You can translate that into increasing young peoples' confidence and understanding of the Heritage and Culture sector. You know how to engage young people: choose an object, share with a group why you like it and there you have the young people developing research skills and communication skills alongside a sense of pride and ownership of simply sharing what they thought was interesting.


3. How can you run work experience in your setting? You do not have to do this on your own. Be a part of a Cultural Education Partnership. If you are in Bristol there is a Bristol Cultural Education Partnership (BCEP). It has at its core, a commitment to support the Henley review’s main objective, ensuring that all children leave school as “well-rounded individuals with a knowledge of the world, past and present, around them”.


4. How else could you do it? Set aside a week in June/July, plan a timetable, and consider what tasks they could do (some research, an event a guide, offer advice). Ask across your organisation - letting colleagues help and get involved will help welcome the young people when they are on work experience.


5. What might the process look like? You will need to create marketing, contact schools, interview those interested, run the work experience, evaluate and celebrate, share and promote. If you can have more than one person undertaking work experience, it will encourage peer review and peer support.


6. No capacity for week long work experience? You could join with another setting or open your doors for just a few hours for young people to get a taste of the passion, dedication and enjoyment they could gain from working within the Heritage and Culture sector. It is better to do something than nothing at all. One idea to promote the opportunity and to give people an insight into working in the sector is to try and get a slot on a local radio station.


7. Always keep it real. All projects must have real outcomes that are beneficial to your setting, providing authentic experiences for your young people.


8. What is there to sign-post your young people to afterwards? Work with the school and your networks to give young people more ideas on where they can direct their skills, interests and talents (apprenticeships, youth panel, freelancing, CV writing, interview techniques, social media profile building etc.)


About the writer and speakers:


Laura Service has worked in museums, galleries and gardens since 2007, working with a variety of audiences including young people. She lives and works as a freelancer in the South West and has been a member of the SWFed Board since 2017.


Deshni is a social enterprise and cultural education consultant for the Real Ideas Organisation a South West based social enterprise who are passionate about finding solutions to social problems, creating and supporting real and lasting change for individuals, organisations, communities and places. Deshni’s work spans a wide range of areas from research and evaluation, challenge-based learning projects, grant funded programme delivery through to consultancy support. Through RIO’s position as Arts Council’s South West Bridge organisation, Deshni offers specialist support to the arts and cultural sector, across the South West, to ensure young people connect to arts and cultural opportunities.


Jackie leads the Participation team for Bristol Culture, encompassing community and young people’s engagement as well as diversifying the profile of our volunteer profile. Jackie has worked in the museum sector for over 10 years, but has a background in community and adult learning in Bristol, obtaining regeneration funding to run first step learning programmes in areas of high deprivation, as well as prior to that, teaching adults in Birmingham and Istanbul.